Friday, November 27, 2009

Considering "Climategate"

I'm opposed to the Waxman-Markey bill. Not because I don't "believe" that human actions can cause changes in the climate, but because I think the W-M bill makes way too many assumptions about exactly how much humans impact the climate and in our ability to reverse that impact. My skepticism is rooted in the work of Bjorn Lomborg and his more conservative outlook on climate change and on the importance of resilience versus assuming we can turn some huge dial and make global temperatures go in the directions we wish.

So now that I've found out that there are numerous questions about the validity of current climate change models I am less than surprised:

The emails seem to describe a model which frequently breaks, and being constantly "tweaked" with manual interventions of dubious quality in order to make them fit the historical data.  These stories suggest that the model, and the past manual interventions, are so poorly documented that CRU cannot now replicate its own past findings.

That is a big problem.  The IPCC report, which is the most widely relied upon in policy circles, uses this model to estimate the costs of global warming.  If those costs are unreliable, then any cost-benefit analysis is totally worthless.
Again, none of this means that "global warming" isn't "real" or "true". All this means is that our ability to gather and interpret data is hamstrung by human frailty. We are - all of us - eternally dealing with scarce resources, be it time, money or knowledge. To me, that is a reason to take a measured, cautious approach to constructing public policies which we intend to affect extremely complex issues. In the case of climate change, this is a good reason not to pass either a so-called "cap and trade" system or even a carbon tax, because we simply do not have enough data to construct a sensible policy response to this situation.    

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chosing to Win in Afghanistan

President Obama appears to have made the right choice.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch some 34,000 additional U.S. troops over the next year to what he's called "a war of necessity" in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told McClatchy.

This is excellent news. The number of troops appears to be less than McChrystal's initial recommendation, but other experts have suggested that 40,000 was on the high end of the estimate and there was a safe range that ran from 25,000 up. Plus, I'd imagine there a number of ways a number that high can be massaged with a few hundred more here and a couple thousand more there - call them "trainers", "support troops", whatever - this number provides the flexibility needed to win.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

South Korea grows a pair; Obama asks "A pair of what?"

To South Korea's Navy I say, "Nice shooting."

Apparently 'Lil Kim decided to test SK resolve by ramping up naval tensions. The ROK navy responded by blasting one of his rickety battle ships.


South Korea understands that the KFR is a bully. They realize that, like any bully, they will push you until you punch them in the face, then they will cry and run away. This is a good sign for South Korea's ability to defend itself. It shows that their military is becoming both operationally capable and confident enough to meet a threat with violence of action, and that kind of assertiveness is as important in deterring a war as it is in winning one. 

The Obama administration, on the other hand, doesn't understand how to handle the KFR. Just a few days after the incident between the KFR and ROK the administration announced that the U.S. is willing to meet bilaterally with the KFR.

This is a great disappointment to me. Less then two weeks ago, I wrote that SECSTATE Clinton
seemed determined to ramp up tensions with the KFR in order to collapse the regime. It now appears that the adminstration has decided to go in a different direction, continuing the absolutely pointless 6 party talks on non-negotiable issues - like the KFR's criminal nature and need for nuclear weapons.

The KFR is not a state - it is a criminal enterprise. Expecting the State Department to negotiate with the KFR is no different then asking the attorney general to negotiate with John Gotti, rather then sending the FBI to snatch him up and throw him in jail.

This is not change I can believe in.

Of course, I should note that Stephen Bosworth, and not the SECSTATE, announced the bilateral talks, so its entirely possible Obama is being forced to use his own people (assuming Bosworth - a "special envoy" actually works for the White House and not for the State Department per se) because Clinton's people - maybe - just maybe - understand the futility of negotiating with the KFR.

The Worst of Both Worlds: Planning to Fail in Afghanistan, pt II

The above photo is from David Guttenfelder, a embedded journalist from the Denver Post. See more here

Barack Obama appears to have decided to roll the dice on a 2011 impeachment trial.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Obama is still close to announcing his revamped war strategy — most likely shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends on Nov. 19.
Two things strike me about the President's position:

1. He will never find the guarantees he is looking for; he will never achieve 100% certainty that any strategy will or will not work. America can do many things right and Afghanistan can still be a basket case in 10-15 years. Decades of effort, billions or dollars and 58,000 American lives added up to loss in South Vietnam, mostly because of a bungled burglary at the Watergate Hotel.

2. This is more disconcerting, for a supposed "international relations major" from Columbia University, the president is remarkably naive about the nature of governments in developing countries.

The idea that you are going to build a strong, corruption free government in Kabul from the top down is nonsensical.  The Afghan's themselves pleaded with the U.S. to bring back the Afghan monarchy after we toppled the Taliban in 2002 but the U.S. insisted that Afghanistan should have national elections in which everyone would vote - a feat which the U.S. didn't even accomplish until the mid 1960s. 

That's right, it took 180 years to achieve something of a broad based democracy in an English society (the U.S.) with only 4 distinct (but related and complimentary) regional cultures and long standing and broad based sense of national identity.

TL;DR: We had the best possible set of circumstances in which to build a democracy and it still took the better part of 2 centuries.

And not for nothing, but I find it odd that Obama wants to hold Karazi to higher standards (WRT corruption) than he holds Tim Geithner

That being said, with the right COIN strategy the U.S. can focus on building up and connecting tribal authorities into some sort of patchwork tribal-state. And functioning tribes can provide legitimate authority that could connect into some sort of regional economic/security bloc.

But what Obama is doing here is ridiculous. He just keeps moving the goalpost and kicking the can down the road on making a decision at all. You don't want to commit to winning? Fine - that's stupid - but fine, bring the soldiers home. Otherwise, commit, give McChrystal the troops he requested and let him have a shot at winning this thing, or at least at losing good. But the status quo is unacceptable. Obama better pay attention, because current polling belies a coming Republican take over of - at least - the House.

And, Mr. President, you need to consider that Republicans are not at all squeamish about impeaching Democratic presidents and Clinton got it over sex with an intern when unemployment ~ 5%.

You are going to have a Republican majority, buttressed by Glen Beck and the Tea Baggers, who will be out for blood with an unemployment rate approaching 11% and you want to throw this war? Really? Going in big now, with the support of prominent Republicans in the House and Senate, inoculates you against the worst of their criticisms. Bucking your hand picked commander on the ground in the hope that Karzai will find religion on good government is a fools errand. Casualties are mounting and elites in the media are basically anti-American fellow travelers anyway, so the narrative can be easily won by the Taliban that we are losing and they are winning. But if you think the situation is ugly now just wait until 2011. You're going to have a primary challenge from your left. (And right? Watch Hillary) You're going to have a angry new majority in congress and you will have numbers in the mid to low 40s, if you're lucky.

TL;DR: You will be impeached. You might not be convicted. But you might be. And if CNN is showing us the last American Marine clinging to the skids of chopper as Kabul is overrun by the Taliban, you will have to resign.

President Obama, you are toying with my than your own career here, you are toying with American prestige. If the people who attacked us on 9/11 can get to run us out of Afghanistan it will invite more tests of our credibility. It will force allies to think twice about getting too close and it will force enemies to test our resolve elsewhere. It will destroy both the Leviathan and the burgeoning sys admin capability. It will sully the relationship between civilian and military leaders in Washington and create a level of mistrust and hand wringing by both the civilian and military establishments that will catapult us right back to the post-Vietnam era.

You were elected to bring change.

Change should not mean changing the clocks back to 1975.

When you took the oath of office America's reputation was damaged; we were feared but no longer repected.

If you continue on this course, if you keep doing what you're doing in Afghanistan and continue setting impossibly high standards of leadership on Afghanistan so you can avoid showing leadership in the United States, you will create a situation that is truly the worst of both worlds:

America will be neither feared nor respected. 

And a world in which America is neither feared nor respected would be the biggest gamble of all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NY's 23rd Congressional District: We'll see......

A conservative 3rd party candidate has drawn such a heavy following in the race to fill the open seat in New York State that his Republican opponent has dropped out.

So is this good news for Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Conservatives or some combination?

We'll see.

I don't live in New York so I'm not completely at ease speaking to the particulars of any given candidate for a congressional seat in that state, but I do have a gut instinct that tells me that any candidate that is endorsed by Sarah Palin and opposed by Newt Gingrich is dangerous.

Scozzafava appears to have opposed the (horrible) Waxman-Markley pay back big contributors to the Democratic base  Cap and Trade bill and she was also endorsed by the NRA. So I'm not quit clear why conservatives oppose her reelection.